Most of us would like to make informed decisions about products based on their environmental impact, right? Even if you're not a raving greenie, you probably think that it's better to do less harm. Fortunately things are improving quite dramatically, our council in West Sussex is right up in the tables for amount of garbage recycled. However there are some confusing aspects to this and I've always wondered whether it's better to buy plastic (instinctively you think no) or glass packaged stuff, and tetrapaks must be good, since they're made out of supposedly biodegradable cardboard, right?
Well, it seems there's a little more to it from what I've found. First of all, there's good plastic and bad plastic. Here's my council's link to show you exactly which can be recycled and which can't (easily) be recycled, so currently isn't recycled at all. It boils down to this list in a kind of order of difficulty of recycling.
- PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate - Drinks bottles
- HDPE - High Density Polyethylene - milk bottles and washing up liquids
- PVC - Polyvinyl Chloride - squash, water & shampoo bottles
- LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene - Carrier bags and bin liners [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
- PP - Polypropylene - Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
- PS - Polystyrene - Yoghurt pots, foam trays, hamburger boxes, egg cartons, vending cups, protective packaging [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
Also, most bottle tops on drinks bottles, milk bottles or whatever turn out to be not recyclable although it's not clear to me why. There is a large facility that takes all these kinds of bottles, sorts them and recycles basically to be used again to make more plastic stuff. Cool. Incredibly according to recycle-more.co.uk only 3% of household plastic bottles are recycled! Although I have a hard time believing that based on the league tabels of recycling for our county alone (and there were some that were even better recyling wise).
There's another interesting thing on that site and that's that glass takes up to 40%more transport energy to move versus products in plastics. That's a good point actually, glass is a lot heavier. Also when you examine the reality of glass recycling it transpires that because the UK is a relatively low producer of green glass, there's a danger of coloured green (wine) and brown (beer) glass ending up needing to be shipped to the continent to use. Clear glass though, there's a huge market in and it goes straight back into being recycled.
The real spanner in the works comes from tetrapaks. They're made up of several things including cardboard, plastic and aluminium foil. There was one plant inScotland, that could recycle these but it was shut down due to a lack of supply (!), meaning there's no one that recycles this. They end up on land fill and they're nowhere near as green and degradable as you might think due to the other materials inside them. Basically they're a bit of a green con in some respects, you see the cardboard outter but they're made up out of folded laminates which have a layer of cardboard for strength and other stuff inside used to seal. Incineration is about the only option but in reality, they end up on land fill.
Of course the best option recycle wise is genuinely reused containers such as the milk man. If you consume a regular amount of milk and orange juice, popular stuff like that - then this is great. They take back the bottles and just clean them out to reuse and the aluminium tops can be popped in your recycling bin too. Hell, most of the milk guys run around on EVs too so it's all good stuff.
Ultimately from this bit of research we can come up with some conclusions about various materials. If you've got the choice to buy something in glass or plastic, if the plastic is of a recyclable nature then this is preferable because of the lack of energy costs in transportation. All glass should be recycled since it never breaks down. Glass is the second best option, always try go for clear glass because this is used in the UK.
In terms of plastics there are some no go areas. Margarine tubs, yoghurt pots etcare useless, which is a pain sinceboth don't come in anything other than that. Someone should start making blocks of margarine in wrappers like butter comes in! Plastic bags and bin liners are evil. The latter is clearly a necessary evil (we need to find some replacement if we're wrapping our rubbish in these!) while the former, seriously, take reusable bags to the supermarket. It's a low grade plastic and the printing on them makes for a lot of contamination. Surprisingly brown PET drinks bottles are unrecyclable, which I'll be thinking of next time I buy ginger beer...
And finally, tetrapak is every bit as evil as margarine/yoghurt tubs and should be avoided. That means buy milk in plastic bottles. They say throw away the lids but I'm pretty sure the lids are PET and ought to be recyclable too... Juices you're a bit screwed since they mostly come in tetrapak. Hunt around for juice in plastic bottles instead. Soups in tetrapak is bad, those foil packets such as seeds of change would be an alternative but I think they'd be just as dubious recycling wise, being a mixture of aluminium foil and plastic. ALL packaging that goes in the microwave is bad. So ready meals are evil but then they were anyway.
Polystyrene trays for meat, this is also unrecyclable and so is the thin plastic film on it too. You know what this means? It means you should buy your meat from a butcher. Also if you get polystyrene in other packaging, boxes etc, you should try to reuse it as packaging because otherwise it'll live on a tip until the end of days - which is only partially practical granted. Back on the butcher subject, if you go to a supermarket butcher counter you'll get it in a plastic bag or, hopefully, in waxed paper (biodegradable) in a paper bag (recyclable) - which is vastly better. Ask for the same treatment in a real butcher too.
So, anyway, the all important issue of alcoholic bevvies. Green and brown glass is a bit meh, but if you drink wine you're screwed really. As for beer, you should get cans first and foremost - they get recycled directly into more cans and they're cheaper to transport. Glass beer is simply not worth the weight and transportation costs in my view, and recycling is a heavier prospect also. Where as a bin bag can hold a shit load of hand-crushed beer cans. Plastic bottles is okay so long as they're not brown. Which means cider in brown PET bottles is bad, so cider in glass would be preferable. Spirits in clear glass is better than coloured glass because clear glass has a greater domestic market in the UK and will probably wind up as someone's curry jar.
I think that's about it.